I found a web site that has Chinese translations for American names and found one for "Rachel." The internet is wonderful, isn't it? Of course, it's not always trustworthy or accurate, so I decided to verify the translation before I posted it (I was afraid I might inadvertently insult more than a billion people). I took a printout to my Chinese teacher (or "laoshi," as we call him in class). He said it's pretty close -- he read it as sounding something like "Lay-Chair." He explained that they use characters that represent sounds that are close to the American ones, but they have difficulty with sounds that they don't use (and apparently they have few words that start with our "r" sound, although they use it a lot at the end of words!). Anyway, he told me that the first character means "thunder," which I thought was pretty cool.
I only have one more class in my beginning Chinese course, but I'm planning to take the next round. It can be very frustrating because it's an extremely difficult language to learn, but I occasionally have flashes of understanding when I can actually answer a question from our laoshi. Of course, usually he's asking me a real brainteaser like my name or the date, so I wouldn't say I'm approaching fluency!
I read that it takes more than 1,300 hours of instruction to be a fairly competent Chinese speaker, as opposed to less than 500 hours for French or Spanish. Obviously, there's not time for that before we travel to China next spring, but I hope that I at least will be able to ask where the bathroom is or how much something costs.